The International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (#IDFA) opened on 8 November under the cloud of political controversy when three activists interrupted the opening ceremony. Unfurling a banner emblazoned with «From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free,” they protested against the ongoing violence against civilians in Gaza, demanding an immediate ceasefire. This bold statement, made during Artistic Director Orwa Nyrabia’s opening remarks, divided the audience, with many applauding the act.
This protest immediately ignited a heated response from the Israeli film community. Industry leaders accused IDFA of implicitly supporting an anti-Israeli stance. The slogan is controversial and banned in several countries, but not the Netherlands. Israeli film figures, expressed their strong opposition in an open letter, stating, «Allowing and applauding a sign which states that ‘From River to the Sea Palestine will be Free’ is a call for the eradication of Israel, the Jewish homeland and of Jews in general.»
Orwa Nyrabia and IDFA responded to the pressure with an apology, clarifying the festival’s position: «The slogan does not represent us, and we do not endorse it in any way. We are truly sorry that it was hurtful to many.» He further explained his own actions applauding the act, saying, «I clapped to welcome freedom of speech, and not to welcome the slogan,» further stating to have «only learned about the slogan on the banner from the team as I went backstage when the opening film started.»
— Festivalists (@Festivalists) November 9, 2023
In a contrasting move, the Palestinian Film Institute (PFI) withdrew from the festival. Strongly criticising IDFA’s response to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the targeting of journalists, PFI released a statement: «For five weeks, IDFA remained silent in the face of the ongoing genocide perpetrated by Israel against Palestinians in Gaza… In response to IDFA’s silence, three activists seized the Opening Night stage.» PFI highlighted the urgency of their cause: «Over 11,000 lives lost, 1 million displaced, and 3,000 missing; a grim picture of the atrocities against Palestinians.» They further condemned IDFA’s stance as «institutional violence and censorship,» underscoring their commitment to elevating Palestinian voices in the film industry.
In addition to the apology, IDFA released a simultaneous call for an immediate ceasfire in Gaza with a statement reading, in part, «At IDFA we believe in the value of life, and in the universal dream of a peaceful world. We respect the pain and the huge loss on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides of the on-going conflict. We stand by the families of all victims and condemn all acts of killing. We hope that all hostages are returned safely to their families, and that a new beginning becomes possible, where both sides have the right to exist, where children are safe and empowered, and where they can dream of the future, and then make a better future for everybody.» The statement comes after five weeks of silence on the topic from the world’s largest documentary festival. As Palestinian Film Institute notes, «IDFA eventually issued a belated statement on the same day, calling for a ceasefire only after the vilification of Palestinian voices.»
Read the full statement from the Palestinian Film Institute – HERE